There were two Braverman statements on Monday in the Commons. Only one of them really matters and it is not the one which has so exercised the commentariat. It is the Home Office’s formal response to the final report of IICSA and its 20 recommendations for an effective and comprehensive system for the protection of children from what the inquiry chair described as a “national epidemic” of abuse. The Inquiry was set up in March 2015 by Mrs May following evidence that many institutions were not just failing to protect children from sexual abuse but were actively dangerous for them. It produced 52 reports on a range of bodies: churches, local authorities, schools, care homes, sports bodies and so on. No body could be assumed to be safe for children, not even those set up to help them. The scale of the evidence taken is staggering: over 6,000 victims, 725 witnesses and 325 public hearings. The final report was published last October. The government has had 7 months to consider the recommendations and prepare its response. On Monday Suella came to the Commons to say what the government would now do.
And what is that action? Well, not very much frankly. Much like Braverman’s statement to the House, it amounts to no more than a lot of well-crafted platitudes, promises to think about some of the recommendations, consider them, go out to consultation, accept some others “in principle” but subject them to more “assessment” so that we can have more evidence taking, reviews, talking, words and waffle. But of actual action and implementation of the recommendations, there is precious little sign. Were seven and half years and IICSA’s extensive research and evidence not sufficient then? Apparently not.
The government has not accepted all the recommendations or has watered them down. It has not even implemented the recommendations from previous reports.
- Take the recommendation to have a dedicated Minister for Children: this was rejected, the existence of the Education Secretary being deemed sufficient. We have had 10 Education Secretaries in 13 years (5 in the last year alone) with such luminaries as Gavin Williamson and Nadim Zahawi in the role. How can this department possibly focus properly on the prevention of child sexual abuse?
- What of the Child Protection Authority? No – more thinking needed.
- The same with the proposal for a redress scheme and therapy for the victims.
- Even the proposal to ban “pain compliance techniques” has been rejected because these can be used properly if the appropriate procedures are in place. Of course they can.
It is a dismal response to what has been – and continues to be – a serious problem, one of the worst crimes to be perpetrated – and against one of the weakest and most vulnerable groups in our society. Little wonder that IICSA’s Chair and the Victims and Survivors’ Consultative Panel expressed their “deep disappointment” saying that the government’s response “will not provide the protection from sexual abuse that our children deserve.” Sarah Champion MP could not contain her fury in the Commons saying that “accepting the need to act isn’t the same as acting”. That sums up this government’s approach to pretty much everything. It behaves like a passer-by at the scene of an accident, wringing his hands while stating how ghastly it all is. Does it not understand that it is in power, has a majority and can not only act but is actually expected to do so?
There have been a large number of inquiries into misbehaviour in recent years. Pretty much all of them have been an exercise in kicking embarrassing stories into the long grass until everyone concerned has died or given up and the politicians/administrators responsible have moved on, with the occasional token face-saving exercise to create the illusion of action. That is pretty much what will happen to those still continuing: the one on the blood contamination scandal, for instance, due to report this autumn. Or the Post Office one. It is what will likely happen to the latest police reports, though the Met deserves some sort of medal for ensuring that, on the day the Mayor announces the establishment of a London Policing Board (to which “Londoners with diverse lived experiences” – as opposed to those unlived ones – are invited to apply), the first police officer to be disciplined (rightly) in relation to its failings over Wayne Couzens is a woman. (Her actions – failing to investigate properly his indecent exposure at a fast food outlet shortly before his murderous crime then lying about it – were hugely unprofessional. As were the failures of those who hired him, failed to do proper due diligence, failed to act on previous red flags, failed to investigate previous sexual allegations against him and promoted him during the previous three years. Shall we take bets on how many of them get disciplined equally severely?)
What makes this inaction by the Home Office so contemptible is the contrast with the way politicians jump on these issues when they think it makes them look good or if they can attack an opponent. Suella Braverman did just that with her recent comments on grooming gangs and ethnicity, claiming that it was political correctness which prevented action. And yet when given the opportunity to act her department does little or nothing. Starmer’s response was to elevate to the Lords a man who used false child abuse allegations to attack political opponents. An error of judgment by anyone but truly appalling coming from an ex-DPP.
Rishi Sunak likes to talk about “our precious children”. Yes, they are precious. They depend on us to do right by them. They are our offering to the future. They deserve better than this.